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Whether you want to pay bills, make purchases or manage your day to day funds, a checking account is essential. While opening a checking account may seem a little daunting, it is actually quite straightforward.
What Do You Need to Open a Checking Account?
Before you start the process of opening a checking account, you need to be prepared with what you will need. Whether you’re opening an account in branch or online, you’ll need to have:
- Your Personal Details: The application form will require you to provide your name, contact information and Social Security Number. The bank will need these details to run a credit check and confirm your eligibility. A bank may reject your application if you have a poor history of managing your finances or if you have had criminal convictions for financial crimes or fraud.
- Proof of Your Address: You will need to provide documentation that verifies your current postal address. Few banks will allow you to open an account using a PO box, as you’ll need a physical U.S address on your account. Examples of proof of address include recent utility bills, bank statements or credit cards that document both your name and address.
- A Valid Government Issued ID: Banks are required to verify the identity of all applicants, so you’ll need to provide a valid government issued photo ID such as a driver’s license or passport. Suppose you’re opening an account in a branch. In that case, you’ll need to present the original document, or if you’re applying online, you’ll need to upload a copy of your ID according to the bank’s specific procedure.
- An Initial Deposit: If your chosen checking account has a minimum deposit requirement, you will also need to have some way to fund the account. This can usually be done by bank transfer, but other methods may be possible, particularly if you’re opening an account in your local branch.
- Co-Owner Details: If you’re under 18, you will need to have a co-owner for your account. This means that you’ll need a parent or legal guardian to sign the documents and provide their personal details, proof of address and proof of ID.
Steps to Open a Checking Account
Once you’re ready to open a checking account, there are several steps that you’ll need to go through.
+Although many banks allow you to open an account in a local branch, for the purposes of this article, we’ll assume that you’re opening an account online.
1. Compare Checking Account Options
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different checking accounts in the marketplace, so before you start the account opening procedure, be sure to compare the various options to ensure that an account meets your needs.
Once you’ve decided which checking account you would like to open, you’ll need to find the product page on the official website for the bank or credit union. You should then see an “Apply” link or button.
Largest Traditional Banks
Largest Online Banks
Bank Of America
2. Check the Terms and Conditions
Before you proceed to the application form, most bank websites will direct you to the product terms and conditions. Although it's tempting, don’t just click through this page.
Take a few minutes to read through the terms and conditions, paying particular attention to any fees or charges that may apply to the account. If you’re happy, you can then proceed to the application.
Here are the monthly fees on 10 popular banking institutions:
Bank of America Advantage Plus Checking
$12 can be waived by maintaining an account balance of $1,500, qualifying deposit of $250+ per month or enrol in Preferred Rewards
Chase Total Checking®
$12 Can be waived if you maintain a $1,000 minimum daily balance, making direct deposits or Associated SnapDeposits of $500 or more per statement cycle, or holding $2,500 in combined deposit accounts with the same statement cycle date or having a Health Savings Account or investment account
Citi Checking Account
$12 Can be waived if you make one qualifying direct deposit and one qualifying bill payment per statement period, maintain a combined balance of $1,500 per month across your eligible accounts or if you’re aged 62
PNC Standard Checking
$7 – $25 per month can be waived if you maintain $500+/$2,000/$5,000 direct deposit per month, $500+/$2,000/$5,000 monthly balance in savings or age 62+/$10,000 in all PNC consumer deposit accounts/$25,000 in all PNC consumer deposit accounts/
U.S. Bank Checking
$6.95 Can be waived by maintaining an average account balance of $1,500, have $1,000+ in direct deposits per month or be aged 65+
Wells Fargo Everyday Checking
$10 Related to Wells Fargo Everyday Checking. The fee can be waived if you maintain a minimum daily balance of $500 or receive at least $500 in qualifying direct deposits per month. The fee is also waived if you’re 17 to 24 and have a linked Wells Fargo Campus Debit Card or Campus ATM card linked to the checking account
Capital One 360 Checking
Amex Rewards Checking
3. Provide Financial Information
Although the minor details can vary according to the specific financial institution, the mandatory fields of the application form will include your full name, address, phone number, email address and Social Security Number.
If you’re opening a joint checking account, you will need these details for both account holders.
Most financial institutions will also have a financial information section to the application form. You’ll need to provide some basic income details. The reason for this is so that the financial institution can assess if this is the right account for you.
Many banks have various different checking accounts and premium accounts require a sufficient amount of income to leverage the account features properly. Be honest about your income details and in a worst case scenario, the bank may offer you a more basic checking account.
4. Provide Your Supporting Documents
Either as part of the online application, or as a follow up, you will need to provide the supporting documentation we’ve discussed above. You may need to upload your documents using your phone camera or email them.
The instructions will vary according to the specific financial institution. Just bear in mind that the financial institution will not be able to fully process your application until they receive your supporting documentation.
5. Complete the Application Form
After you complete all the sections of the application form, you will have a page to confirm your details before you proceed
While the financial institution is not likely to run a credit check as part of the verification process, it is important that all of your details are correct. Take the time to read through the details and ensure they are correct.
Remember that financial institutions will take any attempt to mislead them with false information as fraudulent and may invalidate your application.
6. Await Approval
After you submit your application, you’ll need to wait for the approval decision.
Depending on the policies and procedures of the specific financial institution, you may receive a decision almost immediately or you may need to wait a few days.
In most cases, you’ll receive an email letting you know that the account has been approved and this document will provide you with your account details and how you can register for online banking.
7. Link Other Accounts And Switch to Your New Account
If your account requires a minimum deposit, the final stage of the application will be to link another account or provide another approved funding method, such as a debit card.
Even if the account does not have any minimum deposit requirements, this stage may be included to make it more convenient to get your new account up and running.
Suppose you’re opening this checking account to replace your existing account. In that case, your new financial institution will likely have procedures to help you move all your direct deposits, salary payments, and other transactions to your new account.
This makes it easier to use this account for your day-to-day transactions. Just be sure everything has been moved over properly before closing your old account.
Tips For A Smooth Checking Account Opening
Although the account opening process need not be stressful, some tips can make opening a new checking account run a little smoother. This includes:
- Gather your documents before you begin: As we discussed, you’ll need to provide personal details, ID, and proof of address for all account holders. So, gathering all of this before you begin is a good idea. Bear in mind that while most financial institutions allow you to save your application periodically to complete it later, each time you need to do this, there will be a delay in opening your account. So, it is best to have everything ready before starting the application.
- Use the Tools: Banks want you to move all your account activities over to them, so they offer a number of tools that can help you move from your old bank and manage your new account. So, use these tools, including direct deposits and bill pay. Your new bank may also offer budgeting tools that can be very helpful if you want to get your new account off to a good start.
- Check for Perks: Although this may not make opening your account a little easier, it will help you to get the most out of your new checking account. Many banks offer perks such as referral bonuses and promotions for new customers. So, why not take advantage of these? In addition, even something as simple as opening up new savings accounts to complement your checking account could offer you an interest rate bump or help you to waive account management fees.
Up to 5.25%
Alliant Credit Union
up to 4.60%
Where to Open a Checking Account?
There are several types of financial institutions that offer checking accounts. Each has its own advantages and potential drawbacks that may influence which is the right option for you.
Traditional banks have been the go-to for checking accounts and other banking services for years. There are both regional and national bank brands, which will determine the size of the branch network and ATM coverage.
If you tend to visit various areas of the country, you may appreciate the wide reach of a national banking brand. This means that even if you’re away from home, chances are that you can still pop into a branch if you have any issues.
However, if you prefer a more personalized service, you may prefer a regional bank. Regional banks tend to tailor their services to the regional area, which can be more appealing for some customers.
Online banks are becoming more and more popular. Although you lose branch access, since these banks don’t need to cover the expense of a branch network, they tend to have lower costs. This tends to be reflected in lower fees and more attractive deposit rates.
If you tend to manage your bank accounts via online banking, an online bank could be a great fit for you. However, some online banks don’t have provision for depositing cash. So, if you tend to have cash that you would want to pay into your account, it can be tricky, as you’ll need to pay it into another account and then move the money across to your online account.
Another option for your checking account is a credit union. Credit unions are not available for everyone, as you need to meet specific qualification criteria, such as belonging to a particular group, working in a specific industry or living in a geographic area.
However, since credit unions are owned by their members, they tend to have more attractive rates, more flexibility and limited fees.
How to Start With A New Checking Account?
Although your checking account activity should have no impact on your credit, mismanaging your account could impact your overall financial health. So, there are some tips that can help you to manage your new account to keep your finances under control.
- Have Account Management Fees Waived: If your account has a monthly maintenance fee, the chances are that you can have these fees waived by meeting at least one point on a list of criteria. In many cases, this is something as simple as having your salary directed into your new account. So, check the waiver criteria and try to automate meeting at least one, so you don’t need to worry about the fees.
- Sign Up for Online Banking: Knowing your balance is the key to properly managing your checking account and one of the best ways to do this via online banking. Online banking will not only allow you to log in and check your balance at any time, but also perform a variety of transactions.
- Download the App: Most financial institutions have an app that allows you to manage your account on your mobile device. This means that you will be able to manage your account on the go.
- Set up a Savings Account: Although you may only be interested in a new checking account, it is usually a good idea to set up a savings account with your new bank. This will allow you to quickly and easily transfer any excess funds into savings for your next financial goal.
You need to be 18 to open a checking account independently, but some banks allow under 18s to open a checking account with a parent or legal guardian as an account co-owner.
It shouldn’t cost you anything to open a checking account, but some accounts do have a minimum deposit requirement. This means that you need to deposit at least a specified amount to open the account. However, this money is still yours and you can withdraw it later.
Yes, there are a number of checking accounts that don’t require a minimum deposit. However, you won’t be able to start using the account until you fund it.
If you’re opening a bank account in a branch, you should have no problems using a cashier’s check as your initial deposit.
Many banks allow parents to open a checking account for a child under the age of 18, but you will need to be a co-owner on the account.
A checking account makes it easier to manage your day to day transactions. You can use the account to pay your bills, make purchases with the account debit card and deposit funds.
Some banks may only allow you to have one checking account with them, but you can have a checking account with another financial institution.
Just be wary of accounts that require you to deposit your salary to avoid fees, as you’ll only be able to do this with one account.
Yes, if you have a parent or legal guardian to sign the paperwork with you
This depends on what you need the account for. If you simply want to earn interest on the funds you’re not currently using, a savings account will suffice. However, if you want to swipe for card payments, and pay bills, you’ll need a checking account.
It may be possible to open a checking account using your ITIN if you don’t have your Social Security Number handy.
However, most banks use SSN as a standard field on the application, so you may struggle with online forms if you don’t have your SSN.